Amphibious Trilogies

Phantasma Arktika

Today’s the day Amanda and Brynjår will meet many of the other travellers for the first time on their journey north. I tag along to see them gather outside the university where mini-buses wait to take them to their ship. I’m allowed to see what lies ahead, and to perhaps see their berths, if not the voyage itself. I feel not so amphibious at this moment, but that is about to change.

The conveners of the trip have been very helpful in welcoming my colleagues and to mentioning items and directions concerning our interest in the Northern Sea Route as a passage. As it turn out, the recently released programme of lectures on board lists one on the NSR! It’s by a German researcher, we are told. Relief, it seems as though a part of the project might connect, especially as our interests differ somewhat in scale and expression to the other travellers who are mostly scientists.

We climb aboard, rather eagerly and sit in the heated interior of the bus on this gloriously sunny day. There we meet Dr Barbara Schennerlein. From Dresden and a fluent Russian speaker, she has wide ranging experience these northern islands, waters, routes and passages. She is a member of the German Polar Society and an historian. It’s encouraging to find someone who has detailed knowledge of the history of the region and also the scope of the NSR, itself not a s new as one might imagine in 21st century times, but a major project of the emerging Soviet state.

Later Barbara provides us with her co-edited and curated book Phantasma Arktika which in the image below points to its key sites of study and especially photography. On board ship Barbara gives a lecture on the NSR, highlighting its cultural historical aspects, located on the water, one the move and inside the changing patterns of travel, trade and geo-politics.

I’m thankful to her for remembering to send this booklet and its images of ‘Photography from the Northern End of the word’ as its cover announces. Inside, and embedded in the German text that faces one in English I see the image I could only have dreamt to see in this project. There stands a heroic moustached, Soviet man at the wheel of a ship, flag flying behind him and his seaman’s cap.

In the foreground of this poster by el Lissitzky is a globe, a map, with the trace of ruddy orange the path of the NSR. I am transposed by this constructivist iconography to an earlier time, and propelled into the movement of the present with the projection of today’s route and tonnage, and President Putin’s demands for strategic and commercial success.

In my mind, I see the globe-like interface of our project, with a world above and below the waterline as horizon. Then I suddenly see time behind the wheel in the poster, a wheel of history and representation, here transposed to time behind our interface, an iconographic glimmer of the new route, a future brochure beyond the often rather poorly images maps and banners that do not move the mind as this one does, on land. The NSR has long been a motif and a trope of anticipatory utopian vision, and yet it has come to life via brutally pragmatic navigation of the vast, resource rich Arctic. Very real, wholly phantasmagorical.


Click & Drag: Rotate the view.
Right Click & Drag: Pan the view.